Tuesday 28 February 2023

These Ancient Crisp Packets are Littering Britain

Britain has a very real litter problem, but like many people, I'm guilty of failing to recognise this credible threat to the environment. However, a chance discussion on Twitter about discarded crisp packets has suddenly hammered it home to me. And I thought it would be fascinating for British Crisps to take a look at this curious situation, one which mixes two unusual bedfellows in the form of litter and nostalgia.

Following the recent launch of British Crisps, I set up a Twitter account to accompany it and soon had crisp fans flocking over to discuss all things crisp related. And one of these was Alex Armstrong, a member of the Clean Our Patch litter picking team in Plymouth. Naturally, I expected crisp packets to be a regular feature of her litter picking activities, but I was absolutely dumbstruck that she often turns up packets dating back to the late 1970s.

Thinga Me Jigs - early 1980s

Alex was kind enough to forward over photos of several of the packets, so you can find them, ahem, littered throughout this article. And, yes, there's a nostalgic rush at seeing these decades old packet designs again. I mean, just look at ThingaMeJigs, the early 1980s vitamin-enriched crisps from Hazlewood Snack Foods - there was, until this article went online, only a single Google result relating to these. And who would have known it was possible to step outside in 2023 and find the KP Friars lurking in the undergrowth.

Sure, these packets - all of which were only found in the last two years - are far from mint condition, but given that they've been out in the salty sea breeze of Plymouth for close to 40 years, they're not that ragged.

KP Crisps - early 1980s

It's easy to be a sucker for nostalgia, but there's a significant elephant in the room: why are these packets still here? Clearly, these ancient packets of Wotsits and Murphy's Prawn Cocktail are the antithesis of biodegradable materials. Surely, though, since the wonder of the plastic age, things have changed? Well, the first biodegradable crisp packets in the UK - from Two Farmers - were only launched in 2018. And, with few crisp manufacturers following in the footsteps of Two Farmers, progress remains slow.

Murphy's Prawn Cocktail - late 1986

For Alex Armstrong, uncovering these old crisp packets is a mixed affair:

"We feel the initial excitement of finding the old things but with a heavy dose of sadness that they are still around. We find lot of items from those eras, not just crisps. We have drinks cans and chocolate bar wrappers too. I know so much about the different styles of openings in cans over the years I’m officially a geek!

The packets do, from time to time, spark the old grey cells remembering those packets from the back in the day. There were lots of locally produced crisps/crisp companies around the country and, with Devon being a holiday spot, I should imagine some of the packets we find may have been brought by holidaymakers over the years.

I’m not an expert on packaging but I suspect, back in the 1970’s and 80’s, plastic was the 'wonder of the age' and no one looked into the long term issues that might pose. If you think about it, back in the day, everything was in glass bottles and paper bags so were more recyclable and biodegradable. New innovation isn’t always good innovation, and the consequences weren’t really assessed in the long term"

Smiths Square Crisps - 1987

As a humble crisp website, British Crisps probably isn't the best place to find the answers to this issue, but as with most problems in a capitalist society, it's most likely down to money. As the markets become more competitive - and people have less money to spend - the manufacturers need to keep their costs down, and eco-unfriendly materials are much cheaper. So, perhaps, there needs to be even bigger budgets set aside by the government to help subsidise green packaging, such as the £37 million fund promised in 2020.

Safeway Crisps - 1997

The ancient crisp packets will, however, remain out in the wild and are destined to stay there for many, many more years to come. There's little we can do about them - aside from removing them from their immediate area to protect wildlife - but if you do find a particularly old one, please take a photo and email it over to British Crisps. I'll stick the best ones up on Twitter.

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